The best 21st century nonfiction books about the Holocaust

Why am I passionate about this?

I started conducting primary research about the Holocaust in the 1990s, when I spent a week interviewing my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor and a pious Hasid, about his life. Fascinated with the survival of his faith, I applied for and received a grant from the Religion News Service to explore spiritual aspects of the Holocaust. I also sought to answer my saba’s question: How did Israelis end up fighting their 1948 War of Independence with Nazi weapons such as the Mauser he had received? I answered it in the 2015 PBS documentary I directed and produced, A Wing and a Prayer, and the 2020 nonfiction book I wrote, Saving Israel.


I wrote...

Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence

By Boaz Dvir,

Book cover of Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence

What is my book about?

As it prepared to ward off an invasion by five well-equipped neighboring armies in 1948, newborn Israel lacked the weapons to defend itself. Enter Al Schwimmer, an American World War II veteran who feared a repeat of the Holocaust. He created fictitious airlines, bought decommissioned airplanes from the US War Asset Administration, fixed them in California and New Jersey, and sent his pilots—Jewish and non-Jewish WWII aviators—to pick up rifles, bullets, and fighter planes from the only country willing to break the international arms embargo: communist Czechoslovakia. For the crime of arming Israel with basic war instruments and battle-ready planes, including Messerschmitt fighters and B-17 bombers, Schwimmer and key members of his team paid a heavy price. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Holocaust: A New History

Boaz Dvir Why did I love this book?

As a nonfiction storyteller who often explores the Holocaust and as the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative at Penn State, I’m sometimes asked to recommend books about the Third Reich’s murder of 6 million Jews and millions of Romany, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others. A New History is the tome I often suggest. In a deceivingly simple linear approach, Laurence Rees, who conducted 25 years of primary research to construct this historical account, methodically walks us through the Holocaust’s origins and unfolding, from Hitler’s novice-Nazi days to the Allies’ death-camp liberations. But Rees avoids neat narratives, peeling away complex layers of madness. For instance, he demonstrates that boiled-over antisemitism extended far beyond Germany’s borders in the 1930s and that the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was messier than we may imagine. Only a lucid voice like Rees’ can clue us into and clear up the messiness.

By Laurence Rees,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP 10 BESTSELLER AND THE FIRST AUTHORITATIVE ACCOUNT FOR 30 YEARS.

'By far the clearest book ever written about the Holocaust, and also the best at explaining its origins and grotesque mentality, as well as its chaotic development' Antony Beevor

'Groundbreaking. You might have thought that we know everything there is to know about the Holocaust but this book proves there is much more' Andrew Roberts, Mail on Sunday

Two fundamental questions about the Holocaust must be asked:

How did it happen? And why?

More completely than any other single work of history yet published, Laurence Rees's…


Book cover of House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family

Boaz Dvir Why did I love this book?

I met Hadley Freeman the year before she published her well-researched, well-written recounting of her French-Jewish family history. A Guardian columnist at the time who now writes for The Sunday Times, she interviewed me about my forthcoming documentary feature, Cojot, which follows a French Holocaust survivor (Michel Cojot) on a quest to kill his father’s Nazi executioner. Cojot’s best friend was Freeman’s dad. So, when House of Glass came out, I dove right in, hoping to learn more about Ron Freeman. This nonfiction book—which is easy to read yet, like many stories that encompass the Holocaust, hard to fathom—gave me insight into the French-Jewish experience before, during, and after World War II. Thus, it helped me better understand Cojot, who, in his pursuit of justice, revived an identity lost during the years he spent pretending to be Christian to stay alive. I believe all House of Glass readers can find such rewarding entry points.

By Hadley Freeman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked House of Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestseller

'An utterly engrossing book' Nigella Lawson

'Remarkable and gripping' Edmund de Waal

'A near-perfect study of Jewish identity in the 20th century ... I don't hesitate to call it a masterpiece' Telegraph

After her grandmother died, Hadley Freeman travelled to her apartment to try and make sense of a woman she'd never really known. Sala Glass was a European expat in America - defiantly clinging to her French influences, famously reserved, fashionable to the end - yet to Hadley much of her life remained a mystery. Sala's experience of surviving one of the most tumultuous periods…


Book cover of Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

Boaz Dvir Why did I love this book?

My Polish-Hasidic grandfather, Ozer Grundman, survived several Nazi labor and death camps in his teens but succumbed to cancer in his early 70s. Reading about another Central European Jew (Otto Warburg) who outlasted Hitler, albeit through radically different means, made me wish my saba had been familiar with this German biochemist’s research. Had he heard the Nobel Laureate’s argument that metabolic factors propel cancer’s growth and spread, my saba might have cut down on his unchecked sugar consumption. Then again, despite the recent reevaluation and, in many cases, reappreciation of Warburg’s work, the jury is still out on sugar’s portrayal as the puppet master of America’s No. 2 killer. What is certain is Sam Apple’s assured Ravenous portraiture of a puzzling protagonist who capitalized on the Nazis’ cancer fears to such an extent that he carried on his experiments at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Society throughout World War II and lived openly with a male lover. 

By Sam Apple,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ravenous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg was widely regarded as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century. A Jewish homosexual living openly with his partner, he was also among the most despised figures in the Third Reich. Yet top Nazi officials-perhaps even Hitler himself-dreaded cancer and protected Warburg in the hope he could cure it.

Using new archival sources and interviews with current cancer authorities, Sam Apple depicts a relentless figure, hungry for fame, who pursued his research even as the world around him disintegrated. Remarkably, Warburg's theory about the metabolic origins of cancer has been revived in…


Book cover of X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II

Boaz Dvir Why did I love this book?

While I direct Penn State’s Holocaust Education Initiative and produce and write documentaries, books, and articles that involve the Holocaust, I am not an expert on this topic. I am a student of it. Studying the Holocaust for 30 years, I gaze in awe at the frontiers that remain to be explored. X Troop offers one of the latest examples. Prior to reading it, I’d never heard of the German and Austrian Jews who became British commandos during World War II. One of the lessons I picked up: We should follow these men’s examples of turning weaknesses—in their case, coming from enemy territories and facing suspicion and persecution—into strengths. This is far from a perfect book. As I read it, I found myself time and again wishing it showed more and told less. In several key spots, I wanted to better understand what these commandoes did and how they did. Yet Leah Garrett does a wonderful job explaining the why, which serves as a terrific starting point for further exploration.

By Leah Garrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked X Troop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE UNTOLD STORY OF BRITAIN'S MOST SECRETIVE SPECIAL FORCES UNIT

June 1942. The shadow of the Third Reich falls across Europe. In desperation, Winston Churchill and his chief of staff form an unusual plan - a new commando unit made up of Jewish refugees. This top secret unit becomes known as X Troop. Others simply call them a suicide squad.

From British internment camps, to the beaches of Normandy, the battlefields of Italy and Holland, and the hellscape of Terezin concentration camp, Leah Garrett follows this band of brothers who will stop at nothing to defeat the Nazis.

'A thrilling,…


Book cover of Verdict On Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime

Boaz Dvir Why did I love this book?

Making Cojot, a documentary about a Parisian business consultant who hunted down former Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie, prompted me to closely examine Vichy. This French national administration went out of its way to appease its Nazi occupiers during World War II. But the more answers I dug up, the more questions I had. Verdict on Vichy filled in many of the gaps. For instance, it provided a possible explanation as to why the judges presiding over Barbie’s 1987 trial in Lyon granted his request to sit out the proceedings, thus depriving his victims’ families the opportunity to look him in the eyes as they recounted some of his crimes against humanity. The judges might have pounced at the chance to hide Barbie, who was reportedly ready to spill the beans about French leaders such as then-President François Mitterrand who collaborated with the Nazis. Michael Curtis went to great lengths and took major risks to uncover the truth, and our world is better off for it. 

By Michael Curtis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Verdict On Vichy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This masterful book is the first comprehensive reappraisal of the Vichy France regime for over 20 years. France was occupied by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1944, and the exact nature of France's role in the Vichy years is only now beginning to come to light. One of the main reasons that the Vichy history is difficult to tell is that some of France's most prominent politicians, including President Mitterand, have been implicated in the regime. This has meant that public access to key documents has been denied and it is only now that an objective analysis is possible. The…


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Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four more decades with hope and resilience.

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


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